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Monday, May 25, 2015

We're Stuck in Where? Lodi, California

Was a murder committed here?

No, not quite that bad but that sure looks like some blood stains on this sheet. At any rate, the housekeeping staff of this particular hotel has been neglecting to change the sheets on the sofabed in this room.

It’s been a rough drive. Leaving on a Thursday night to avoid the Memorial Day Weekend Friday night traffic jam, it was smooth sailing over the Grapevine and into Bakersfield.  Soon, we hit the multi-lane closure at Famoso.

OK, we’re past that but then the multi-lane closure at McFarland, and the multi-lane closure at Delano, and the multi-lane closure at Pixley, and the multi-lane closure at Visalia…and on and on all the way to Stockton.

What should have been a fairly uneventful 5 or 6 hour drive stretches to 8 as we finally arrive in our destination of Lodi after midnight.

We’re in town but can’t find the hotel. Finally, we pull over and fire up the Kindle to map it out. It’s another 10 mile drive west when we finally find the hotel on an empty part of the Central Valley along Interstate 5, far away from the town the hotel’s website said it was in.

I complain to the night desk clerk about it, “you’re nowhere near Lodi. How can you say you’re located there?”

“We get that a lot,” the clerk replies.

“I want to cancel the last three days of our reservation,” I tell him.

“You’ll have to take it up with the manager in the morning,” he tells me.

Very tired but not willing to put Tim to sleep in a dried up pool of someone else’s blood, I head back down with another complaint, “no one has changed the sheets on the sofabed.”

“Can I move you to another room?” he asks.  Not unless it’s an accessible room I tell him.

Five minutes later, the desk clerk is in our room making the bed offering profuse apologies.

In the morning, we put the bags back in the van, march into the front office, and promptly check out before walking next door to McDonalds for a quick breakfast of Sausage McMuffins before traveling on. 

This was to be a trip to Lodi, now we’re stuck here (hey, sounds like a song) with no room on a very busy holiday weekend.  How will this work out?

Stay tuned…

Copyright 2013 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Cocktail Hour: Belgians on Ice, Part Deux or Part Twee

Felt like something different for this week's Cocktail Hour so I decided to expand upon our original Belgians on Ice post.

Today, I needed to go to the store for some groceries and remembered that the Stater Brothers in Glendora is right next door to Lone Hill Liquor, home to a vast array of beers.

Letty likes the sours, so I'm looking for something she'll enjoy without breaking the bank like the sour rye I see from the Bruery that goes for around $24 for a 750 ml. bottle.  There is a great selections here and I end up settling for the Rodenbach Grand Cru at about half the price of the Bruery's version.

For me, it's been a long time since I've enjoyed a St. Bernardus brew, so I go with the hyper-strong ABT 12, which clocks in at 10% alcohol.

First the sour...Rodenbach is a classic Flemish Red Ale made in Roeselare, Belgium. It's sour, real sour with...as my wife says...no hint of sweetness at all. That's fine with her as she likes her sour ales as sour as possible.  It's aged over two years in oak barrels and has added bacteria to impart that tartness.

When it hits the tongue, the first thought is vinegar, like the malt vinegar you put on fish and chips, but let it linger a little bit and you'll find a rich savoriness in the background that's quite interesting.

I admit, I'm still developing my taste for the sour ales but each time I try, I like it a little more.

The St. Bernardus is an abbey ale, a quadruppel, which goes down very smooth like a good Belgian dubbel like Petrus or Kwak. It explodes with a rich, deep, almost sweet taste that goes down like velvet.

At 10% alcohol, this one will kick your ass if you're not careful...I think I'll need a nap after this bottle.  Only drink it if you're somewhere you won't have to drive from any time soon.

It's a delicious beer with a well-hidden kick.



Friday, May 22, 2015

A Day at the Races: Tim and Darryl Take on Santa Anita Park

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Magnus Manske under CC BY 2.0 license

I love horse racing. I grew up not far from here and it wasn't uncommon for my dad to take us to the races now and again. Santa Anita, in Arcadia, California, wasn't his favorite track. He said it was too uppity for him. He preferred the more downscale Los Alamitos for the quarter horses racing at night.

For me, Santa Anita is perfect. Glorious mountain views, outstanding art deco architecture, and mighty thoroughbreds racing for the gold.  I never found it too intimidating, I always seemed to fit right in.

Watch the Video!

Later on, I'd get a job during high school at the mall next door. It was very common to meet jockeys, trainers, and other staff from the track who would always be willing to chat about the ponies and let me know who they thought would win. They were also a wealth of horse racing knowledge and taught me a lot about this ancient sport.

A coworker got to know one of the racing stewards (equivalent to a referee in other sports) and he would give us free passage into the club house whenever we wanted.  Lunch breaks would find me heading across the massive parking lot and placing a few bets.

In those days, racing was in it's prime. Talk to any locals of a certain age and they'll remember the massive traffic jams leading to the track on race days. On one particularly big day, it took me two hours to negotiate the last couple of miles to my job at the mall.

Now, you can bet on horses anywhere including your own living room. Back in the day, you had to actually go to the track to do that. Off-track betting has killed attendance at our tracks and, let's face it, horse racing is a dying sport around here.

We've lost two local tracks...the fairgrounds and Hollywood Park...leaving their racing dates to be divied up among the three remaining...Los Alamitos, Del Mar, and Santa Anita.  While Los Alamitos claims to be able to turn a profit with it's paired-down facility and Del Mar also runs a very popular fair at a spectacular oceanfront setting, the company that owns Santa Anita is no stranger to the bankruptcy court.

For now, Tim and I are going to spend a day at this 81 year old grand dame of the racing scene while we still can.

Online, you can find lots of packages and discounts. On santaanita.com, I find a two for one clubhouse deal where Tim and I can go and sit in the great club house (as opposed to the general admission area) for $10. What a deal.

The worker who scans our tickets and stamps our hands points out the gate a few feet away where we can catch an elevator up to the club house level. Although it was built in 1934, much of the facility is wheelchair accessible.  

We do a little exploring and find the best and most convenient place for us to watch the races is the apron in front of the general admission grandstand. There is a nearby bridge over the tunnel where the horses enter the track that separates the club house from the general admission area so we devise a strategy where we'll relax in the club house between races, scoot across the bridge to watch it, and return to the club house to repeat the process.

The first two races are a loss to us. We take a break for lunch and have a very nice, custom carved roast beef sandwich at the carvery counter in the club house. Another rash, low dollar wager puts us another couple of dollars in the hole when I find out I've misplaced our program and racing form.

Tim comes up with the strategy of picking a horse via the number that is closest to his uncle's favorite number, 7. The 7 horse is scratched for this race, so he defaults down to 6. We place a wager on that horse and I also pick an exacta for the 6-9 horse combination (the next closest number to 7 - an exacta is a bet where you pick the first two horses in the order that they will finish).

It's a few minutes to race time and we head back out to our spot.  The horses are off...number 6 leaps out to an early lead and keeps it. As we watch the horses heading for home, there are two horses ahead of the pack, nose-to-nose. It's 6 and 9 and 6 just noses out 9 for the win.  

We finally hit a bet although with only four horses in the race, the payoff is not what dreams are made of...$49.80 for a combined $10 bet.

Still, it gets us out of our hole but we'll drop back down as we lose another $10 on the last race of the day for us.

It's a fun day out for this father and son duo and also very inexpensive. Even though we did end up slightly on the losing side of things, having fun with your son is pretty priceless so I thought it was a very good deal.

Santa Anita Park is about 15 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles in Arcadia. It's just south of the 210 freeway at the Baldwin Avenue offramp. Foothill Transit and Metro both provide accessible bus transportation to the track.

Normal adult admission is $5 for general admission and $10 for the club house.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

ROUTE 66 - Desert Photo and Video Essay

Watch the Video!

Our recent tour of the American Southwest ended over a fall weekend in Laughlin, Nevada. Coming home, we didn't want to deal with the Las Vegas traffic so we detoured along Route 66 through the desert and the community of Amboy, home of the Amboy Crater.  

Here are some pictures of that journey (be sure to check out the video too, at the top of this post)...

Coming into Needles, California with the Colorado River in the distance.

Another view of the river with jet skiers having some fun.

You don't need anything fancy to have fun at the river. Just pull over and jump in.

Along the Route in Needles, I'm guessing an old hotel or boarding house.

The Amboy Crater, a near perfect cinder cone from an ancient volcano.

A close up of some of the lava field surrounding the crater.

Another view of the crater.

...and one more view of the lava spreading across the desert.

Copyright 2011 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.

Monday, May 18, 2015


We've been spending a couple of days in Laughlin, Nevada on the Colorado River next to Bullhead City, Arizona. See Part 1 of this report here.

The morning dawns bright here in Laughlin. Our room faces west, so we don’t get the sunrise there plus the heavy duty black out curtains make is seem like midnight until I crack them open a bit to see the sunshine.

Watch the Video!

The family crew slowly rises to meet the day. It’s breakfast at the Riverview Café, pretty much the best food we’ll find this weekend, and then off to the riverfront behind the hotel.

The USS Riverside offers narrated 90 minute cruises several times a day. We’re catching the 10:30 cruise, the first one offered. It’s ramped and wheelchair accessible, though only the interior cabin can be reached with a chair. Large windows there offer good views and the restrooms on board are not accessible…go before you go.

The cruise itself is a relaxing voyage about a mile north of the hotel to Davis Dam, which holds back Lake Mojave on the other side. Near the dam, we see a wheelchair accessible fishing platform jutting into the river on the Arizona side.

After the dam, the cruise goes south of Laughlin to the end of casino row before doubling back to the Riverside Hotel.

We take a drive over the bridge to Bullhead City to do a little shopping and to get some cheap gas. Today, it’s about 50 cents a gallon cheaper on the Arizona side than in Nevada and even more than that compared to California stations down in Needles.

Upon return, we’re up in our room, changing into our swim suits. Our big event this weekend is the Vince Gill concert that will be taking place in the resort’s temporary amphitheater.

The venue is actually some bleachers and folding chairs set up around a stage on the top level of the parking structure across the street. We called ahead and got seats stage right in the third row.

Looking out our windows, we can see the theater across the street. Viewing through binoculars, I see a tall man in a red polo shirt walking in. It’s the headliner, Vince Gill.

Taking a few minutes to see what’s going on, the band takes the stage and goes into their sound check for the evening concert. Opening the window, we can hear as well as see it and are treated to a little mini concert of about 5 songs.

After that, we head to the pool for a little relaxing.  It’s not too relaxing as the water is freezing.

I grab a pizza from the Pizza Hut in the lobby. We eat a little lunch and then Tim and I lose a few dollars at the roulette table while Letty shops.

Later, we go down for a pre-concert dinner. The fans have arrived and the lines stretch out of the Riverview Café and the buffet. Instead, we head upstairs to the Gourmet room… a very nice and expensive spot for dinner…where we dine on happy hour appetizers and have a few drinks.

After dinner, we walk over the bridge to the show. Wheelchair users get priority for the elevator. We have to wait about three loads before we can go up and get to our seats.

Our seats are very close to the stage, although some scaffolding provides minor blocking issues for Tim and me. Letty has an unobstructed view from her seat. We’re even closer to backstage…just an area cordoned off with a small barrier…where we see Mr. Gill getting ready to take the stage.

The show starts and off we go. It’s a very good concert, suffice it to say we’re big fans of Vince, and he plays his heart out for the crowd.

Security here isn’t so strict that they won’t let you take a picture so we get a few…

After the show, we’re able to meet some of the band and then Vince Gill himself.

All-in-all, completely worth it to come out here in the middle of the desert just to see a concert.

The next morning, we have one more breakfast at the Riverview and set out across the desert for the long trip home. Not wanting to hit all the tourists returning from Las Vegas on a Sunday afternoon in Barstow, we detour down Route 66, Amboy, and 29 Palms before joining Interstate 10 near Palm Springs  and going home.

Stay tuned for our Route 66 photo essay as we wrap up our journey.

Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Cocktail Hour - Wine: Pinot Noir

Today is supposed to reach 90 degrees so we'll keep it light with a bottle of wine.  This afternoon, we'll be enjoying a 2008 Redwood Vineyards Pinot Noir.  Redwood is a Sonoma winery but the grapes are from Lodi and the Sacramento River Delta.  Rated 88 points, it has hints of rasberries, cherry, and a nice oak finish.  Click on the picture above to see it large and the clarity of this wine.

Not that we've had a lot of Pinot Noir the last year, maybe a half dozen bottles total, but this is the best we've had recently.  It's delicious and can be had for around $12.  Paul's Wine of the Month Club has it for $6.99 for members.


Friday, May 15, 2015


The hottest day in my life. On the border of Nevada and Arizona. 128 degrees farenheit (that’s a little north of 53 for my European friends).

We were lucky, we had a boat and could jump in the water at any given moment. The can of soda I left in the car wasn’t so lucky…it exploded and I had a sticky, sweet, gooey mess to clean up.

Fortunately, on this trip, the highest we’d see was 87. The weather was gorgeous the entire trip to Laughlin this time.

Watch the Video!

Named after the owner of the Riverside Resort, Don Laughlin…who sparked a boom here back in the 60’s and 70’s, the town is like the little sister to Las Vegas and about 90 minutes away.

Not trading on the hedonistic reputation of that big city, instead, Laughlin portrays itself as a casual, laid back outpost along the Colorado River. A half-dozen casino resorts line the riverbanks with another, the Tropicana, across the street in the desert.

Our home for this trip would be the original resort, the recently mentioned Riverside Resort at the north end of town.

Laughlin got its start here with a small hotel and casino. There was no road access from the nearest town of any size, Bullhead City across the river, so Mr. Laughlin set up a free ferry service to bring gamblers across the river to his casino.

In the years since, he’s paid for a bridge to span the river next to his hotel making road access a breeze but, in a nod to the past, the ferries still run today. They make for quite a little thrill ride as the operators are intent on making the crossing as quickly as possible.

Today, the expanded resort has over 1,400 rooms and over 700 camping spaces. Along with three casinos (one non-smoking and another across the street), the complex features several restaurants ranging from fast food (Pizza Hut) to diner to buffet to gourmet (The Gourmet Room). There’s a bowling alley; a 6-screen movie theater; concert hall; nightclub; several bars; spa; dance studio; bingo hall; several shops; riverboat cruises; post office; two car museums; and two pools.

The rooms are pretty basic. Maybe just a notch above a TraveLodge. Ours was a two queen room…if those were queen size, I’m George Clooney…with an accessible bathroom featuring a roll-in shower. We had to call housekeeping to bring us soap and shampoo…asking other guests and seeing online reviews, this seems par for the course here. It took the bell service 40 minutes to bring our bags, which still beats the over-an-hour wait we had at the Mandalay Bay in Vegas.

Not the plushest room in the land but it would do. The rate was $69 which is a little more than usual in Laughlin, primarily because of the weekend’s headliner, Vince Gill, would be drawing in thousands of people.

Settled in (finally), we head downstairs where I ask a few shopkeepers and security guards where they like to eat around here. The consensus seems to be the diner, Riverview Café, so we head there and have a pretty darn good supper sitting in front of giant windows with spectacular river views. Prices were pretty reasonable too.

After dinner, we take a quick walk along the riverfront and explore the hotel. Past the bowling alley is a bridge across to the other casino across the street. Upstairs, we visit one of the two car museums here.

There are some very cool cars, motorcycles, and even some antiques gaming tables. A few are even for sale.

An AMX over there, a Studebaker here, and old Chrysler Imperial down that aisle…all stunningly restored.

They do have some competition the next morning when a car club mainly consisting of replica Cobras shows up in the parking lot.

Along with the snakes are a couple of Lamborghini Dinos, one of which followed us into Laughlin yesterday. A couple of owners show us around with pride.

We have a little shopping to do, not enough pillows in the room and we forgot to bring extras, so we’ll cross the river to WalMart, and then get ready for our big event of the weekend.

Stay tuned for that in part 2 of this report.

Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

ACCESSIBLE ATTRACTIONS: Tucson and Tombstone, Arizona

Our ratings are...

Fully Accessible - You can access all of the attraction, with no problem, in any type of wheelchair.

Mostly Accessible - You can access most of the attraction, and all of the important parts of it, with your wheelchair.

Partially Accessible - You can access a good deal of the attraction but some parts are inaccessible and some important parts you'll miss.

Inaccessible - Kind of speaks for itself, avoid if you're in a wheelchair.

Here's Tucson and Tombstone, Arizona...

OK Corral - Fully Accessible. You won't have any problems navigating this attraction but be advised of two things...the gunfight show is loud and the actual gunfight took place where the highway is today, just outside of the walls of the attraction. Still, a lot of fun. If loud noises bother you, go between shows to avoid it.

Birdcage Theatre - Partially Accessible. You won't be able to access the basement and there are no accessible bathrooms.

Boot Hill - Mostly Accessible. Some of the paths through the cemetary are a bit rough but most wheelchairs will be able to see most of the area.

Big Nose Kate's Saloon - Partially Accessible. Basement gift shop is off limits to wheelchairs due to stairs.

Fox Theatre (Tucson) - Fully Accessible. Great place to see a show with very good and close up wheelchair seating.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, May 11, 2015

Tucson, Arizona - Recap

If our previous reports on Tucson, Arizona were too much for you, Tim provides a Cliff Notes version for you today in this 5 minute video.

Watch the Video!

Filmed at the Radisson Suites Happy Hour and Military Party in Tucson.

For the complete reports, click the links below:

Tucson, Arizona 2011 - Part 1

Tucson, Arizona 2011 - Part 2

Copyright 2011
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, May 10, 2015

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Belgians on Ice

Today on the patio were chillin’ some brews.  A couple of Belgian beauties.

Belgium is our favorite beer making country, followed closely by Germany and the good ole USA.  Today, we’re trying an abbey brewed reserve ale and a Lambic.  Both are readily available, today’s bottles came from Trader Joe’s.

The Lambic is Lindemans Framboise raspberry Lambic and the ale is Chimay Grande Reserve.

First the Lambic.  These are mainly sour beers often fortified with fruit.  Letty loves the sour Belgians, I think they taste like vinegar.  It’s an acquired taste for me but some people really love it.  This one is not sour, though.  It’s actually pretty sweet and tastes more like a raspberry soda.  Not sour enough for Letty and too sweet for me.  The raspberries give it a deep red color and it looks like punch.  

The Chimay is a rich, brown, smooth tasting beer.  It’s not very clear, almost a Guinness like thick brown that blots out the sun.  It is very smooth, like you’d expect a Belgian to be, and tastes just a little hoppy and a lot nutty.  Not a bad brew but there are better out there, although they are not as readily available.

The Lambic is $8 and the Chimay $9 for a 750 ml bottle at Trader Joe’s.